B.D. , while we may never get a musical version per your suggestion, the debate between Jefferson and Henry over religious freedom and church/state relations in early post-revolutionary America lives on—it’s reenacted every April at Colonial Williamsburg . Drop by any Wednesday afternoon in April (which is “religion month” at CW) to see Jefferson and Henry get up on stage and debate whose bill the Virginia legislature should pass. All the key issues we’re so familiar with are canvassed, in the idiom of these two extraordinary political personages. The interpreters really go at it with gusto.

My favorite moment: at one of the shows I attended, Henry was making his typical argument that society needs to support the church because it is the only institutional source of moral teaching. He suddenly began to burst out: “Where shall we learn morality? From the government? Shall the government teach us frugality? Shall the government teach us honesty? Shall the government teach us self-restraint?” The crowd went wild.

At the end of the presentation, the members of the audience are invited to vote their preference—but only if they are white Protestant males who own at least fifty acres of land (or twenty-five acres of actively farmed land, or any amount of land in Williamsburg or Norfolk) in the state of Virginia. At a typical show, no one is eligible; on one of the occasions I have been present, there was one CW employee in the audience who qualified. He voted with Jefferson.

Even if they’re not qualified to vote, I expect ROFTers would get a huge kick out of it.

Articles by Greg Forster


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